TIME

Putin’s Approval Rating Reaches Record High in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russia's President Vladimir Putin smiles while speaking with journalists in Itamaraty Palace in Brazilia, early on July 17, 2014. Alexei Nikolsky—AFP/Getty Images

Russians are also satisfied with their freedom, military and elections

Amid the conflict in Ukraine and growing discord with European neighbors and Western countries, Vladimir Putin’s approval rating among Russians has climbed to its highest level in years, according to a new Gallup poll.

Eighty-three percent of Russians approve of the job Russia’s president is doing. This ties his top rating in 2008 and marks a 29 percentage point increase from Putin’s rating in 2013.

For the first time since 2008, a majority of Russians say their country’s leadership is moving them in the right direction. In addition, 78% have confidence in their military, 64% in their national government, and 39% say that they are confident in the honesty of Russian elections.

But Russians’ positivity isn’t limited to their government. A record high of 65% of Russians said they were satisfied with their freedom in 2014. A significant group–35 %–also said they thought economic conditions were improving.

While Russians are satisfied with their own government, the poll showed they are increasingly turning away from Western countries. Both U.S. and European Union leadership had single digit approval ratings. One country Russians do approve of is China. The poll showed Russians’ approval for China soared this year to a record 42%. In recent months, the two countries have shown close economic ties, signing a $400 billion gas deal this spring.

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Warned Of Unsafe Airspace Over Crimea, But Not Where MH17 Crashed

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

The Federal Aviation Administration warned U.S. air carriers not to fly in a region about 200 miles away from where Malaysian crash occurred in Ukraine.

Earlier this year the Federal Aviation Administration banned American air carriers from flying over part of the disputed area between Russia and Ukraine over safety concerns, but the area where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed on Thursday was not included in this restricted airspace.

The agency warned American aircraft on April 25 against flying over the Crimean peninsula and the surrounding waters after Russia, which had moved to annex the territory, claimed control over that airspace.

“In the FAA’s view, the potential for civil aircraft to receive confusing and conflicting air traffic control instructions from both Ukrainian and Russian ATS providers while operating in the portion of the Simferopol (UKFV) FIR covered by this SFAR is unsafe and presents a potential hazard to civil flight operations in the disputed airspace,” the agency wrote. “In addition, political and military tension between Ukraine and the Russian Federation remains high, and compliance with air traffic control instructions issued by the authorities of one country could result in a civil aircraft being misidentified as a threat and intercepted or otherwise engaged by air defense forces of the other country.”

But the Donetsk region where Flight 17 reportedly crashed is roughly 200 miles northeast from the restricted zone. The map below was included in the FAA advisory.

 

 

FAA
TIME russia

Ukraine Rebels Call Putin a Coward After Russian Inaction

President Vladimir Putin in Kremlin, July 4.
President Vladimir Putin in Kremlin, July 4. Alexei Nikolsky—Itar-Tasss/ZumaPress

Early promises of help from Russia go unfulfilled

The rebel commander in eastern Ukraine was sure Russia’s tanks would soon come grinding over the border to his rescue. He even had an idea of what would provoke the invasion—“130 corpses,” he told TIME. “When they see that on Russian TV, they’ll come and help us.”

That was in the middle of April, and since then the body count in eastern Ukraine has far surpassed that figure. Even the commander himself, who went by the nickname Romashka, is now among the dead, having been shot by a Ukrainian sniper in his stronghold of Slavyansk at the beginning of May. No Russian troops ever came to help him.

For the Ukrainian government that has been a saving grace, allowing its army to force the pro-Russian militants into retreat over the weekend, killing scores of them in the process. But for Russian President Vladimir Putin, this turn in the conflict presents a painful dilemma. His pledges of support for the separatists now seem like false promises to the rebel leaders—and to their many supporters in Russia—and they have begun openly accusing Putin of cowardice and betrayal. The patriotic spell that he cast on his electorate with the annexation of Crimea in March now seems to have lifted, and his sky-high approval ratings are now likely to come down to earth.

The change in tone is already evident on Russia’s propaganda channels, which still depict the rebel fighters as heroes and martyrs—but not a part of any Russian war. “No one is talking about sending in troops anymore. That conversation is over,” says Mikhail Leontiev, one of the leading spin doctors on state-controlled TV. “Now the people need to understand that if Russia falls into this military trap, it will be worst of all for the people of eastern Ukraine, even for the fighters among them,” he tells TIME.

The fighters would beg to differ. In endless missives to the Russian leadership over the past few months, they have asked with growing anger and desperation for the Kremlin to send in troops or at least provide them with advanced weaponry. “We don’t have the means to fight so many tanks,” Igor Girkin, the rebel commander in eastern Ukraine who goes by the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov, said in a video appeal to Moscow on June 19. “I’m still hoping that Moscow has enough shame to take some kind of measures.”

But instead of offering much material assistance, Putin’s allies seem to have launched a slander campaign against Girkin and his men, even accusing them of “crying like women” about a lack of firepower before abandoning the rebel stronghold of Slavyansk this weekend. “He gave up the city without any pressure from the Ukrainian side,” Sergei Kurginyan, another prominent Kremlin propagandist, said in a video denunciation of the rebels. “No one was advancing against him.”

This claim seemed out of sync with the fighting on the ground. For days before the rebels fled Slavyansk on July 5 the Ukrainian army had besieged them, bombarding their positions with heavy artillery and cutting off supplies of food, electricity and water. Indeed, in the first week of June, Kurginyan had himself campaigned for Russia to send military contractors to assist Girkin and his men.

But that was before Putin made his sudden turn toward the role of a peacemaker in Ukraine. His reasons were pragmatic. Western sanctions had already broken financial ties—and frozen bank accounts—that Kremlin elites had spent years nurturing. The next round of sanctions would likely have sent Russia’s economy into a recession, putting at risk the state programs and paychecks that feed Putin’s loyal bureaucracy. A full-scale invasion would also risk a military quagmire that would further drain the Russian budget, as Ukraine’s army has mustered a force impressive enough to put up a serious fight. So in late June, Putin asked his legislature to withdraw his permission for the use of military force in Ukraine, and he began calling for peace talks in league with Western mediators.

The rebels were not the only ones to see this as a sign of duplicity. Russian nationalists have begun to turn on him as well, posting diatribes and even music videos that seek to goad Putin into war, juxtaposing his pledges to “defend the Russian world” with images of bombed-out villages and Russian corpses in Ukraine. “We gave them hope,” Alexander Dugin, one of the leading nationalist ideologues in Russia, said during a television appearance last week. “When we said we’re a united Russian civilization, this didn’t just come from a few patriotic forces. It came from the President!”

And it will not be easy for Putin to back away from those promises. A nationwide poll taken at the end of June suggested that 40% of Russians supported military intervention in Ukraine, up from 31% only a month earlier. This segment of society is largely made up of young, poor and undereducated nationalists, as well as elderly people nostalgic for the glory of the Soviet Union, according to Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, the independent polling agency that conducted those surveys. After the Russian annexation of Crimea, the euphoria among these parts of the electorate helped push Putin’s approval ratings toward record highs of over 80% “The revival of those strong imperialist feelings, playing on the idea of a fallen nation rising up, all of that ensured the sudden upswing in support for Putin,” Gudkov said. “But I don’t think that can last, probably not even past this fall.”

The all-time peak in Putin’s popularity, Gudkov points out, came right after the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, when his approval ratings jumped to 88% before quickly getting dragged down by the effects of the global financial crisis. By the spring of 2009, they were down to 55%—propped up by what Gudkov calls the apathetic mass of civil servants and state dependents who support Putin “because there is not other choice.”

That slump is now likely to recur. The Russian economy is once again stagnating, this time from the effects of the Western sanctions, and there are already signs that consumers are suffering from the resulting slump in the value of the ruble. New car sales, for instance, fell by a remarkable 17% last month, and the estimated cost of developing Crimea—roughly $18 billion—will put further strain on the federal budget. Such bread-and-butter problems are not enough to dissuade the jingoist minority in Russia, and they are certainly not much help to rebels fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine.

But as the last few weeks have shown, Putin is not the Napoleon many of them believed him to be.

 

TIME

Fighting Engulfs Key City as Ukraine Truce Ends

DONETSK, Ukraine — Rifle shots rang out Tuesday in the streets of the largest city in eastern Ukraine and panicked residents fled gunbattles as fighting flared with new intensity after the president ended a cease-fire.

Hopes for peace in eastern Ukraine appeared to sink, as separatist rebels fought to gain further ground and badly-trained and disorganized government troops did not seem capable of crushing the mutiny.

The shaky cease-fire had given European leaders 10 days to search in vain for a peaceful settlement, and its end raised the prospect of an escalation in a conflict that has already killed more than 400 people since April.

President Petro Poroshenko had called a unilateral cease-fire to try to persuade the rebels to lay down their weapons and hold peace talks. Some of the rebels signed onto the cease-fire as tentative negotiations began, but each side accused the other of repeated violations.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that substantive talks with representatives in easternUkraine had failed to start in earnest and that the cease-fire announced by Poroshenko amounted to an ultimatum to the rebels to disarm.

The Russian leader also denounced the Western threat of sanctions as blackmail, adding that Moscow wouldn’t accept “ultimatums and mentor’s tone.”

Europe mustn’t allow “any unconstitutional coups and interference into the domestic affairs of sovereign states” and should steer clear of “inciting radical and neo-Nazi forces” to avoid destabilization, Putin said.

Russia has cast February’s ouster of Ukraine’s former pro-Moscow president following massive protests as a coup conducted by radical nationalists and neo-Nazis.

In Donetsk, the capital of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, many streets were deserted and gunfire filled the air Tuesday as rebels besieged the headquarters of the regional Interior Ministry. After a five-hour gunbattle, the rebels captured the compound, leaving the body of a plainclothes police officer outside.

In Kiev, the interior minister said Ukrainian forces had repelled the rebel attack in Donetsk, but an AP journalist on the ground saw that clearly was not the case.

Residents appeared traumatized.

“I was driving and some people appeared with automatic weapons,” said Vitaly, who said he was too fearful to give his last name. “They put me and my girlfriend on the ground and then they said: ‘Run away from here!’

“I don’t know who is fighting whom. We are standing here. We are afraid and shaking.”

It wasn’t clear what prompted the rebel attack on the Interior Ministry building that houses regional police, who have peacefully coexisted with the rebels even though they nominally remained subordinate to the central government in Kiev.

The Interfax news agency quoted Sergei Kavtaradze, a spokesman for the insurgents in Donetsk, as saying the attack was launched by militants from the neighboring Luhansk region. There was no way to immediately confirm his claim.

Poroshenko announced the end of the cease-fire late Monday and by early Tuesday the military had made artillery and air strikes against separatist positions, Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky told the Interfax news agency. He said one service member was killed and 17 wounded in the previous 24 hours, and that a military jet was damaged.

There was no comment on any casualties from the rebel side.

Near the village of Karlovka, 30 kilometers (20 miles) northwest of Donetsk, residents told The Associated Press that government forces and rebels began firing heavy weapons at each other across a bridge early Tuesday, just hours after the cease-fire expired.

“There was shooting near the water. Even the water was splattering,” said Inna Vladimirovna, who gave only her name and patronymic, fearful of being identified. “We know when they are just shooting to scare and when they are shooting to kill.”

Ukrainian troops appeared to score some success Tuesday, with Poroshenko congratulating them on dislodging the rebels from one of the three checkpoints on the border with Russia that they had seized.

European leaders have been pressing Putin to persuade the rebels to lay down their weapons. The West has accused Russia of fomenting the rebellion with troops and weapons.

Russia has rejected those claims, saying that Russians who crossed into the east to fight with the rebels were private citizens. It says its influence with the rebels is limited and urges the Ukrainian government to negotiate directly with them.

Putin warned Tuesday that by ending the cease-fire, Poroshenko had made himself politically responsible for the fighting that began months before he was inaugurated in early June.

Poroshenko held four-way phone talks for hours with Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in the last two days but said the rebels’ failure to meet his conditions made it impossible to extend the cease-fire.

In Brussels, the European Union’s 28 governments decided Tuesday they were not ready to hit Russia with a new round of sanctions over Ukraine and put off a decision until Monday, according to an EU official.

That proposal would target those responsible for fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, according to a diplomat from a major EU country, and could include travel bans and asset freezes for both individuals and companies. The EU has so far sanctioned only individuals.

Both the EU official and the diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to discuss the closed-door talks publicly.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned “the persistent unlawful violence” by armed militia groups in eastern Ukraine and urged them to lay down their weapons.

“The secretary-general reiterates that a continuation of hostilities can only further exacerbate an already precarious situation,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

 

TIME Ukraine

Ukrainian President Ends Unilateral Ceasefire, Will Send Military Forces Back on Offensive

Ukraine's President Poroshenko walks at the military camp near the town of Svyatogorsk
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko walks at the military camp near the town of Svyatogorsk in Eastern Ukraine, June 20, 2014. The President called off the unilateral ceasefire and said the military would be sent back to fight the rebels. Stringer—Reuters

Poroshenko's decision, announced shortly after the much-violated 10-day cease-fire expired, raises the prospect of renewed escalation of a conflict that has killed more than 400 people.

Updated: July 1, 2014, 1:36 a.m. ET

(KIEV, Ukraine) — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was abandoning a unilateral cease-fire in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists and sending military forces back on the offensive after talks with Russia and European leaders failed to start a broader peace process.

Poroshenko had already extended the cease-fire from seven days to 10 as part of a plan to end the conflict that has killed more than 400 people since April, but the cease-fire has been continuously broken, and the pro-Russia rebels have not disarmed.

Poroshenko’s decision, announced shortly after the much-violated 10-day cease-fire expired, raises the prospect of renewed escalation of a conflict that has killed more than 400 people.

A grave Poroshenko made a televised address early Tuesday vowing that “we will attack, and we will free our country.” The cease-fire expired at 10 p.m. Monday.

There was no immediate sign of a response from Russia early Tuesday.

The idea behind the truce announced June 20 was to give pro-Russian rebels a chance to disarm and to start a broader peace process including an amnesty and new elections. Poroshenko, a wealthy candy magnate elected May 25, had already extended the cease-fire from seven days.

But rebels did not disarm, and the cease-fire was continually violated, with both sides blaming each other. Rebels called the cease-fire fake and did not yield to Poroshenko’s latest push to get them to turn over key border crossings with Russia and permit international monitoring.

“The unique chance to put the peace plan into practice was not realized,” Poroshenko said. “This happened because of the criminal actions of the fighters.” He said the militants violated the truce “more than a hundred times.”

Poroshenko said the government was ready to go back to the cease-fire “at any moment, when we see that all sides are keeping to the basic points of the peace plan.”

“Peace is, was and will be my goal,” he added. “Only the instruments of achieving it are changing. … The defense of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, of the security and lives of peaceful citizens, demands not just defensive but offensive action against the terrorist militants.”

Poroshenko said he made the decision after a meeting of the national security council. “After discussion of the situation, I, as commander in chief, took the decision not to continue the unilateral cease-fire.”

“Ending the cease-fire, this is our answer to terrorists, armed insurgents and looters, to all who mock the peaceful population, who are paralyzing the economy of the region … who are depriving people of a normal, peaceful life,” Poroshenko said in his speech.

Poroshenko’s decision followed four-way talks in search of a solution with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Monday as the deadline approached. He issued a statement after the talks ended, saying the key conditions needed to continue the cease-fire had not been met.

European leaders and the U.S. have urged Russia to use its influence with the rebels to ease the bloodshed and have threatened to impose another round of economic sanctions against Moscow.

While Putin has expressed support for the cease-fire, the West has accused Russia of sending weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine. Russia says any Russians there have gone as private citizens.

Tension between Russia and Ukraine escalated in February when protests by people who wanted closer ties with the European Union drove pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych from office. Russia called that an illegal coup and seized Ukraine’s Crimea region, saying it was protecting the rights of people there who speak Russian as their main language.

The insurrection in the eastern regions near the Russian border started soon afterward, with separatists occupying buildings and declaring independence.

Poroshenko said he meant for a cease-fire to be followed by an amnesty for fighters who had not considered serious crimes, and political concessions such as early local and regional elections, protections for speakers of Russian and, in the longer term, changes to the constitution to decentralize power to the regions.

The end of the cease-fire raises the question of what action the Ukrainian military can take. It has so far been unable to dislodge rebels occupying the city of Slovyansk or to retake control of three key border crossings with Russia. At one point, the rebels shot down a government military transport, killing 49 service members.

TIME Opinion

Why Russia Won’t Catch Up in the Space Race

Goin' nowhere: Smiles take you farther than frowns
Goin' nowhere: Smiles take you farther than frowns Bill Ingalls/NASA; Getty Images

It takes a lot of things to run a successful space program, but petulance, anger and impulsiveness are not among them. That's a lesson Vladimir Putin has to learn.

It’s a hard fact of exploratory history that angry people don’t achieve much in space. You have to be patient when you design your rockets, steely-eyed when you launch them and utterly unflappable when you actually get where you’re going.

That stay-poised doctrine was conspicuously at work in the past few days, as two different space projects played out in two different parts of the world with two very different results. On Friday, Russia scrapped the launch of its new Angara rocket—a booster that has been in development since 1994 and has gone pretty much nowhere. Vladimir Putin was personally involved both in overseeing the launch and in authorizing the stand-down—a line of command that would seem awfully strange if it were President Obama on the horn with Cape Canaveral telling the pad engineers what they can launch and when they can launch it.

On Saturday, meantime, NASA successfully tested its Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, a nifty piece of engineering that the space agency admittedly overhyped as a “flying saucer,” but that does kind of look like one and is actually a prototype of a new landing system for spacecraft going to Mars—a place NASA has been visiting with greater and greater frequency of late.

The U.S. and Russia were once the Castor and Pollux of space travel, cosmic twins that dazzled the world with their serial triumphs in the 1960s and ’70s, but they’ve gone in different directions since. America’s manned space program has been frustratingly adrift since the end of the Apollo era, but the shuttles did fly successfully 133 times (and failed disastrously twice) and new crewed spacecraft are in development. The unmanned program, meantime, has been a glorious success, with robot craft ranging across the solar system, to planets, moons, comets and asteroids—and one ship even exiting the solar system altogether.

And Russia? Not so much. The collapse of communism, the loss of Kazakhstan—which put the Baikonaur Cosmodrome, Russia’s Cape Canaveral, in an entirely different country—and hard economic times made space an unaffordable luxury. But now Russia is grimly trying to claw its way back—and the grimness is a problem.

The Angara launch was supposed to take place from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwest Russia, a new installation intended to re-centralize the space program, getting it out of Kazakhstan and back on home soil. It’s of a piece with a range of Russia’s actions lately, which have, much like the Angara, been more fizzle than flight.

Putin’s Crimean land grab seemed bold if larcenous for a moment, but the blowback has been severe and he’s already backing down from further actions, with his ambitions for a renewed Russian empire limited—for the moment at least—to a single Black Sea island with less square mileage than Massachusetts. His long dreamed-of economic union—announced with enormous fanfare in early June and intended to serve as a counterweight to the 28-member EU—turned out to be nothing more than a table for three, shared with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Ukraine initially RSVP’ed yes, but that was one revolution and one Russian invasion ago, and the new government is once again tilting west.

And so it will probably go with Russia in space. The original space race was no less political than anything Russia is doing today, but both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were operating from positions of strength, projecting their competing power over a sprawling region of client states and taking the duel to the cosmic high ground. Russia today—with Putin calling the shots on when a booster should be launched and the government issuing petulant threats to quit flying American astronauts to the International Space Station—is acting neither strong nor confident.

It is, instead, joining the long list of states that have dreamed of space but sought to power themselves more with rage than rocket fuel. And consider how far they’ve gotten. North Korea? Pathetic. Iran? Please. China? They’re doing great things now, but that only started when they climbed down from their revolutionary zeal and started focusing on the engineering and physics instead of the ideology and slogans.

Russia may once again become the cosmic pioneer it was—and space fans of good will are rooting for that. With the Cold War over, it matters less whether the first flag on Mars or the next one on the moon is the stars and stripes or the Russian tri-color or even the Chinese stars. As long as a human being is planting it, that will be good enough. So the door is always open, Russia. But please, leave the nasty outside before you come in.

TIME

Thousands Flee Ukraine for Russia; Truce Nears End

IZVARYNE, Ukraine — Thousands of Ukrainians in cars stuffed with belongings lined up Thursday at the eastern border to cross into Russia, with some saying they felt betrayed by their government and vowing never to return.

A commander at the rebel-controlled border post southeast of the city of Luhansk said 5,000 people had left by evening, joining a stream he said has continued unabated through a shaky cease-fire set to expire on Friday.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have sought safety in Russia since the fighting began two months ago between government troops and Moscow-backed separatist fighters.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday called on Russia to support his peace plan “with deeds, not words” as the weeklong cease-fire neared its end in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said they too were looking for more action from Moscow ahead of a summit on Friday of European Union leaders, who will be considering a new round of punitive sanctions on Russia.

The summit also will see Ukraine sign a sweeping trade agreement with the EU that will bind it more closely to the West. It was the former Ukrainian president’s sudden decision late last year to back out of the EU deal under pressure from Russia that led to his ouster and triggered the current crisis.

By declaring a cease-fire only through Friday morning, Poroshenko may have been trying to push forward the peace process ahead of the EU summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged him to extend the truce and hold talks with the separatists, who have declared independence in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Poroshenko announced Thursday that representatives of the mutinous regions have agreed to talks with the Russian ambassador, a former Ukrainian president representing Poroshenko, and a European envoy. The first round of talks on Monday brought rebel leaders to the negotiating table for the first time.

Russian news agencies quoted Andrei Purgin, a leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, as saying the next round would be held Friday in Donetsk.

Poroshenko has shown willingness to extend the cease-fire and his next step may hinge on the outcome of the talks.

It was unclear how many Ukrainians will end up settling in Russia. Russia’s migration service said last week that it had registered the arrival of 90,000 Ukrainians, but few asked for refugee status because it would oblige them to stay in Russia for at least six months.

Many of those at the Izvaryne crossing on Thursday were taking household items, including refrigerators. One family from a village south of Slovyansk, a separatist stronghold that has come under frequent shelling from the military, said they “hated Ukraine” and would not return.

The rebel commander, who would give only his first name, Alexander, said whenever there was a spike in the hostilities the flow of refugees would increase. The day before the cease-fire was announced, the line to cross the border stretched for 5 kilometers (3 miles).

The United Nations estimates that from April 15 to June 20, 423 people, including servicemen and civilians, were killed in eastern Ukraine.

Even though some rebel groups agreed to observe the cease-fire, Poroshenko said 18 government troops have been killed this week. Separatist leaders also have reported deaths among rebel fighters.

Speaking at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on Thursday, Poroshenko urged Moscow to stop the flow of fighters from Russia and take other steps to end the conflict.

“Without that, we cannot talk about peace,” Poroshenko said. “Support the peace plan with deeds, not words.”

Kerry, speaking in Paris, said “it is critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that they’re moving to help disarm the separatists, to encourage them to disarm.”

Merkel also stressed the importance for Russia to show its commitments “in the coming hours,” saying that Germany will “have to decide how we will further proceed” on possible sanctions against Russia after a meeting with Poroshenko on Friday.

Putin and Merkel spoke by phone on Thursday, discussing extending the cease-fire and releasing people held by armed rebels, the Kremlin said.

Germany also announced that it was easing its immigration restrictions for Jews from Ukraine due to reports of an increase in anti-Semitic incidents since the crisis broke out.

TIME Ukraine

Exclusive: Ukraine’s President Seeks ‘Understanding’ With Russia

Merkel Meets With New Ukrainian President Poroshenko
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko Carsten Koall—Getty Images

In his first interview as President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko tells TIME that he has no choice but to keep Russia at the negotiating table, as no country is prepared to guarantee his country's security from further attack

Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko wants to see Russia punished for what he calls the “tragedy” that befell his country this year. But even as Russia has annexed one region of Ukraine and encouraged a violent rebellion in two others, Ukraine does not have the option of breaking off ties with the Kremlin, Poroshenko told TIME in his first interview since taking office. His government has no choice but to seek “an understanding” with Russia, he says, even if for no other reason than the hard reality of Ukraine’s geography.

“Maybe some Ukrainians would like to have Sweden or Canada for a neighbor, but we have Russia,” he said on Monday inside the Presidential Administration Building in Kiev, fidgeting with a set of rosary beads throughout the interview. “So we can’t talk about a firm sense of security without a dialogue and an understanding with Russia.” That is why Poroshenko spent the first full day of his tenure on Sunday in marathon talks with the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov. Their positions remain miles apart, at best leaving Poroshenko room for “cautious optimism” for restoring civil relations with Russia, he said.

But whatever progress they will make toward a cease-fire between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Poroshenko has no intention of making nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “To be honest, I’m not very interested in what Citizen Putin thinks of my state,” he said. If the Russian leader doubts Ukraine’s right to exist within its current borders, the best way to convince him otherwise is to build a powerful army and a thriving economy, Poroshenko said. “No one would allow himself to doubt the existence of small countries like Singapore,” the Ukrainian President said, “because when a country is strong, effective, comfortable, monolithic, such doubts would never enter anyone’s minds.”

Achieving that will require support from the West, he told TIME, not least of all the kind of military aid that he has been requesting. “We’re talking about assistance that will be able to stop this aggression” from Russia, he said of his discussions last week and this weekend with U.S. and European leaders. “The help can take all kinds of forms, from intelligence to military technology, from blocking our airspace to enforcing a maritime blockade” in case of attack.

Poroshenko said he discussed these kinds of support last week with U.S. President Barack Obama, and brought it up again with Vice President Joe Biden, who attended Poroshenko’s inauguration on Saturday. But no Western nation has agreed to provide any security guarantees to Ukraine, nor have they made any firm pledges to renew the so-called Budapest Memorandum, the 1994 agreement between the U.S., Russia and the U.K. that was supposed to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

With the annexation of Crimea in March, Russia violated that agreement, and Poroshenko has since become convinced that even the U.N. Security Council is no longer capable of preventing conflict between major powers. “When one of the veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council has in effect become an aggressor, that shows that the old system isn’t working,” he said. This argument came up in his talks with Western leaders last weekend in France, and he said they agreed “without question” about the need for the “global security architecture” to be revised. “The struggle for Crimea is a struggle to prevent such precedents from repeating themselves in the future,” he said. “We can’t allow unpunished aggression.”

But punishing Russia is not an option for Poroshenko at this point. The best he can do is to build a military that can prevent a future Russian attack and, at the same time, stay at the negotiating table with the country he calls an aggressor. His goals are modest. Apart from stopping the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, he wants Russia to offer a new “model of behavior, a model of guarantees” that would restore a sense of stability. So far, he doesn’t have anything close.

TIME russia

Global Perceptions of Putin’s Russia Have Become Increasingly Negative

Russian President Vladimir Putin Holds Council Meeting For National Children's Strategy
Russian President Vladimir Putin speeches during a meeting of the Coordination Council on Implementing the National Children's Strategy for 2012-2014, in the Kremlin on May 27, 2014. Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images

Many people are just not that fond of Russia anymore, according to a BBC survey published this week

Russia under President Vladimir Putin’s iron-fisted rule is losing fans across the world at a precipitous rate, according to a new study commissioned by the BBC World Service from GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).

Feelings toward Moscow have increasingly soured in 13 of the 24 countries surveyed in 2014 and are the most negative since the poll was first conducted nine years ago.

“Views of Russia have continued to deteriorate strongly over the past year,” the BBC said in a statement. “In the 20 tracking countries surveyed both in 2013 and 2014, negative ratings have jumped four points to 45%.”

Views of Russia were most unfavorable in Europe, where the proportion of French and Germans holding negative views of the country increased by 6 points to 69% and 67%, respectively. In the U.K., 64% of those polled had negative feelings toward Russia — a 7% increase.

An equal percentage of Americans polled held negative feelings about Russia, representing a 5-point increase in the past year.

Pollsters cited Putin’s increasingly antagonistic behavior on the global stage as the likely stimulant responsible for the increase.

PIPA director Steven Kull said the polling period was one “during which Putin had pressed Ukraine to not move toward the E.U., and when the first riots took place in the streets of Kiev.”

However, at least six of the countries surveyed reported increasingly positive attitudes toward Russia.

China, home to roughly 20% of the global population, holds largely favorable views of its neighbor to the north. Approximately 55% of Chinese surveyed expressed positive perceptions of Russia — an 11-point increase.

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